If the two men had known the powerful struggle taking place inside the woman behind them, they would've deserted the surgery and run for their lives. Any lesser creation would have throttled them both the moment their knives touched Rotfeld's skin. But the Golem recalled the doctor in the hold, and her master's assurance that he was there to help; and it had been that doctor who'd brought him here. Still, as they peeled back Rotfeld's skin and hunted through his innards, her hands twisted and clenched uncontrollably at her sides. She reached for her master in her mind, and found no awareness, no needs or desires. She was losing him, bit by bit.
The surgeon removed something from Rotfeld's body and dropped it in a tray. "Well, the damned thing's out," he said. He glanced over his shoulder. "Still on your feet? Good girl."
"Maybe she's simple," muttered the assistant.
"Not necessarily. These peasants have iron stomachs. Simon, keep that clamped!"
But the figure on the table was struggling for life. He inhaled once, and again; and then, with a long, rattling sigh, Otto Rotfeld's final breath left his body.
The Golem staggered as the last remnants of their connection snapped and faded away.
The surgeon bent his head to Rotfeld's chest. He took up the man's wrist for a moment, and then gently placed it back. "Time of death, please," he said.
The assistant swallowed, and glanced at the chronometer. "Oh two hundred hours, forty-eight minutes."
The surgeon made a note, true regret on his face. "Couldn't be helped," he said, his voice bitter. "He waited too long. He must have been in agony for days."
The Golem could not look away from the unmoving shape on the table. A moment ago he'd been her master, her reason for being; now he seemed nothing at all. She felt dizzy, unmoored. She stepped forward and touched a hand to his face, his slack jaw, his drooping eyelids. Already the heat was fading from his skin.
Please stop that.
The Golem withdrew her hand and looked at the two men, who were watching in horrified distaste. Neither of them had spoken.
"I'm sorry," said the surgeon finally, hoping she would understand his tone. "We tried our best."
"I know," said the Golem and only then did she realize that she'd understood the man's words, and replied in the same language.
The surgeon frowned, and shared a glance with his assistant. "Mrs I'm sorry, what was his name?"
"Rotfeld," said the Golem. "Otto Rotfeld."
"Mrs. Rotfeld, our condolences. Perhaps"
"You want me to leave," she said. It wasn't a guess, nor was it a sudden understanding of the indelicacy of her presence. She simply knew it, as surely as she could see her master's body on the table, and smell the ether's sickly-sweet fumes. The surgeon's desire, his wish for her to be elsewhere, had spoken inside her mind.
"Well, yes, perhaps it would be better," he said. "Simon, please escort Mrs. Rotfeld back to steerage."
She let the young man put his arm about her and guide her out of the surgery. She was shaking. Some part of her was still casting about, searching for Rotfeld. And meanwhile the young assistant's embarrassed discomfort, his desire to be rid of his charge, was clouding her thoughts. What was happening to her?
At the door to the steerage deck, the young man squeezed her hand guiltily, and then was gone. What should she do? Go in there, and face all those people? She put her hand on the door latch, hesitated, opened it.
The wishes and fears of five hundred passengers hit her like a maelstrom.
I wish I could fall asleep. If only she would stop throwing up. Will that man ever quit snoring? I need a glass of water. How long until we reach New York? What if the ship goes down? If we were alone, we could make love. Oh God, I want to go back home.
Excerpted from The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. Copyright © 2013 by Helene Wecker. Excerpted by permission of Harper. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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